Last week we explored as many facets of Asian cinema possible . Now it’s time to look at a pile of cartoons. It’s a warped, wide, and varied selection. Enjoy...
DUCKMAN: SEASON 1 & 2 (CBS) (3 DVDs)
The year is 1994. The incredibly inventive Gabor Csupo and Elaine Klasky are riding high for being the production house studio for The Simpsons and their own creation, The Rugrats. Doing freelance work for them is one Everett Peck, who recently published a comic at Dark Horse. Meanwhile, Jason Alexander is getting national attention as George Costanza on Seinfeld and there’s a cable operation, USA, looking to get some. Add scriptwriters Jeff Reno and Ron Osborne (Moonlighting, Night Court) and the inspired music of Frank Zappa. What do you get?
You get Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man, a hollow-tip shell that shattered the collective cranium of American subculture. This collection supplies the first two seasons of this mind-blowing series.
At its core, Duckman was The Simpsons’ without the onus of standard and practices. Alexander voiced Duckman, a ne’er-do-well mallard who brought new lows to the term “private dick.” His family includes three sons in two bodies, a comatose mother-in-law who expresses herself through flatulence and an ultra-neurotic sister-in-law whose main joy in life was making Duckman miserable. His archenemy is named George Herbert Walker “King” Chicken (Tim Curry). His saving grace is a “sidekick,” the miraculous Cornfed, a pig of surprising depth who actually sounds more like Jack Lord than that guy from Dragnet.
From there, Peck, Osborne and Reno rapid-fired “cases” that kept the viewer guessing as much as they kept Duckman absolutely stupefied. They ranged from a comedian with squeaky clean, PC humor to staying one step ahead of the IRS, especially when it’s being aided and abetted by his sister-in-law. Throughout it all, one marvels at the nauseatingly cute stuff bears Fluffy and Uranus, and the numerous ways Duckman tries to kill them. You also wonder why the only creature he repeatedly defeats is King Chicken. Most important, you’ll be left laughing your head off at the fusillade of verbal and visual pot shots constantly flying at you.
As for the graphics? It was probably the pinnacle of the Klasky-Csupo style. The incredibly quirky, constantly off-center approach to traditional pen and ink will keep your eyes as entertained as the gags. To this day, there is no studio that does work like Gabor Csupo, and the world is a poorer place because of it.
As with such collections, the set comes with its share of extra content, including mandatory history, Peck demonstrating how he draws Duckman, and some other de rigueur shorts. While they may not be as extraordinary as the shows themselves, they hold their own. We should be happy they did come, as CBS has a nasty habit of usually not doing them.
As for the cast and crew? Peck is now a respected illustrator, creator and teacher. His most recent work has been Squirrel Boy for Cartoon Network. Alexander may not be enjoying the high life of the last decade, but still does his share of work. Klasky divorced Csupo, but both are also still quite active. USA left the animation business behind but is now one of the largest cable networks in the country and the late Frank Zappa’s music is still readily available, thanks primarily to his son Dweezil (who was also the voice of Duckman’s elder son, Ajax).
In the meantime, all one can do now is wait anxiously for Seasons Three and Four. Suffice it to say, if you love this kind of subversive and totally surreal sort of humor, these two seasons include some of the series’ best work.
ADVENTURES OF THE GALAXY RANGERS VOL. 2 (Koch Vision) (4 DVDs)
This set collects the final half of the legendary 80s animated series. Like before, the character design, basic story lines, and background work are a decade ahead of their time. Still, the voice looping and action work is stiff a relatively unemotional when compared to then day competition like Thundercats and/or Bionic Six. On the extra content side, there are some items of note, though, particularly producer Robert Mandrell explaining why the series only lasted on year, as well as a touching memorial to lead voice actor Jerry Orbach.
BLUE ELEPHANT (Genius)
Based on a Southeast Asian legend, this Henson Production tells the tale of the war between Siam and Burma, but from a young war elephant’s perspective. More important, this Thai production is from an up-and-coming studio named Kantana, who have developed a soft, round and warm style of CGI that still doesn’t mince on elaborate and expressive character design. Keep an eye out for them.
COMEDY CENTRAL’S TV FUNHOUSE (Comedy Central) (2 DVDs)
Combine the talents of Robert Smigel (Ambiguous Gay Duo) and Dino Stamatopolous (Morel Orel), and you are sure to end up with some animation that’s going to disgust, discombobulate, even discomfort. More ‘toons for big kids here, and puppet works crossing the grounds that even Seth Green’s Seth The Bunny feared to tread. The Anipals trip to Tijuana alone gives a whole new definition to doing the nasty to the pooch. Now if they only had a kids show like this when we were young.
DINOSAUR KINGS/The Adventure Begins (Shout! Factory)
Wonder why this game-licensed show makes it where Bakugan and Chaotic doesn’t? Try having the same American team as the original Pokemon for starters. There’s a goofy charm producer Eric Stuart and cohorts Veronica Taylor (the original Ash) and Rachel Lillis has many others just plain don’t. Besides, it’s battling dinosaurs. That’s enough for the kid in anybody.
A product of a beloved Swedish director, Per Ahlen, at least in his native Scandinavia, this low-budget effort has its moments. Released in 1974, the title character (who’s name literally means “thunder butt”) steals a little girl’s toys, brings them to life, and goes on a trip that’s part Fred Wolf’s and Harry Nillson’s The Point and part Schoolhouse Rock (at least animation-wise). All said and done, it’s charming in its own B-movie way.
FRIGHTFULLY FUNNY (4 DVDs) & HEROES & HEROINES (4 DVDs) (BCI)
These two sets are low-budget repackaging of past Filmation sets. Each has their moments, where the former includes a lot of Groovy Ghoulies half-hours while the latter includes Blackstar, Space Sentinels, and The Freedom Force. Add the various bits of extra content, and they’re worth what you’ll end up paying.
HEY ARNOLD!/Season One (Nickelodeon) (4 DVDs)
In many ways, this series was Nick’s crossbreed between Fat Albert and the late Bill Melendez’s animated Peanuts, with maybe some Recess thrown in. The only real surprising thing is why it took so long for Nick to start collecting the entire series. No extra content either, but still worth having. We should be glad to have it.
IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN (WB)
The third Peanuts special ever produced, it was also the one that showed the series wasn’t a fluke as it set ratings records that are still hard to beat. As always, the Gang is in top form pondering the importance of this specific holiday, from free candy to Snoopy’s eternal battle with the Red Baron. Also included is a second special, It’s Magic, Charlie Brown, where Snoopy turns Charlie invisible and he finally gets his revenge on Lucy and kicks a football. A true must have.
JANE & THE DRAGON (Shout! Factory)
This New Zealand import is one of the two reasons one should watch Qubo (the other being Martin Two Two). Set in medieval times, it tells the tale of the feisty red-headed 12 year-old, Jane, whose bravery impresses a dragon enough that he’d let her be her steed, of sorts. This earns her the near-impossible title of knight apprentice, and the fun begins. If Jane and Dragon aren’t memorable enough, the rest of the supporting characters, from Jester to the King himself, are equally unforgettable. To top it, the series’ production house, WETA, has come up with a wonderfully warm and fluid CGI style that’s pretty unique for TV. Check it out if you are looking for kids programming that’s fresh and still entertaining.
KYO KARA MAOH/Season II Volume 7 (FUNimation/Geneon)
Here’s another reason to say thank you to FUNimation. This intricately plotted series finds our hero Yuri, from Earth originally and now king of the parallel demon world he currently resides in, in an interesting position. His world is finally at peace, but there is a new race out to challenge it. If that isn’t enough, his older brother Shuri is suddenly transported to the demon world. While not a great jumping on point, this new set of problems promise the KKM hasn’t lost its edge yet.
THE LITTLE MERMAID/Ariel’s Beginnings (Disney)
This D2D Disney explores Ariel’s history before the movie that started the animation renaissance. It posits in those days King Triton had music banned, and guess what little red head has to change his mind. While the animation is superlative, just about everything else here is utterly forgettable. File under why bother.
PUCCA/Spooky Sooga Village (Shout! Factory)
This high octane Jetix series continues to impress with its mix of its full throttle anime nonsense. Nice/naughty noodle girl Pucca still will do anything to trap her noble ninja crush, Garu. The key difference here is Shout! Factory collected just about every Halloween episode possible. That means lots of sugary sweet skeletons, funny phantasms, and high speed hysteria. A great addition to this collection.
SPACE GHOST COAST TO COAST/Kentucky Nightmare (Adult Swim) (2 DVDs)
After way too long, this set collects eight episodes from various seasons of the SGC2C series. People who take their continuity seriously might be somewhat upset, but these are some of the best episodes from season five to at least seven. By that I mean replicator pods, Radiohead’s Tom Yorke, Willie Nelson, uncensored Conan O’Brien, commentary not only from creators Dave Willis, Matt Maierello, and Mike Lazzo, but their moms attacking bears, killer bees. and lots and lots of liquor. AVID Dada at its greatest. By the way, the only way you can get this is through [AS] website www.adultswim.com.
SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN/Attack of the Lizard (Sony)
Way back when, creators Greg Weisman and Victor Cook warned all that the real way to see the Spectacular Spider-Man series were as a series of interconnected mini-arcs. With this DVD you get to see the end result. Basically collecting the first three episodes, this disk introduces us to Weisman and Cook’s version of the Webhead and his supporting cast. The fact he takes on Vulture, Electro, and The Lizard along the way are just gravy. What we are really getting is solid character development for the future. The only gripe is next time give us just a little more extra content that the full theme song. Otherwise, if you needed solid reason to see why this is one of the best new shows of the season, look no further.
UNSTABLE FABLES/Tortoise vs. Hare (Genius)
While the first edition of this new Henson all-CGI series, Three Pigs and a Baby had its moments, there will be many a time during this second effort where you will want to throw something at the TV screen. If you want to blame anyone, it’s got to be the scriptwriter(s). In this rendition, the stubborn reptile had still one the first race, but now their respective children have to suffer for it. When the inevitable rematch ends up being an extreme sports event, everything else about this one gets seriously off track. What’s worse is one can’t blame the voice cast (including Danny Glover and Jay Leno) or the animators for this one. Both groups do their jobs right. Let’s see what the next one brings and let’s just hope it’s a sophomore jinx.
WAYSIDE HIGH SCHOOL/Season One (Nickelodeon) (2 DVDs)
This hyperkinetic series is like an untrained puppy. It tries to please hard, very hard, but needs to be whacked on the nose more than once. Based on a series of books by Louis Sachar, it misses the surreal spirit of the originals to concentrate on lowball wackiness. Suffice if you play hooky on this school, you won’t get hunted down by any truant officers.